Evernote, for better or worse, is the best note-taking service for my needs. It works across all my devices/computers/modes. It's fairly easy to get stuff into it. Hell, they even have 2-Factor authentication. The Windows app is a little clunky and my girlfriend and I have never been able to get shared notes to work properly (conflicted note! three times in the same grocery trip!), but what service is perfect? At least they have nice socks.

Everything, in fact, is pretty good as long as you don't screw up. And screw up I did. I'm not very regular about making backups, but I do make them every month or so. Once you figure out how to create a backup, that is.

There's a helpful Export Note option (which turns into Export Notes when you select multiple notes HINT). The export process is essentially opening All Notes, selecting every note, and then choosing Export Notes. Or something like that; Evernote never tells you, you're left to figure it out on your own. The file the process makes includes all the notes, tags, and media, but not your notebooks or stacks.

This becomes important if and when you need to restore. Why? Because what you've now done is create one, huge file with every note in your account but with no information about how those notes were organized. It's a fast and easy and repeatable way to dump data out, but not what you may want on the import side if you're restoring.

So, what have I done to myself that Evernote didn't anticipate? I divorced my work and personal life. I'd had 2 stacks, one for my personal notes and one for work notes. After a few weeks trying to make OneNote work, I decided I'd just go back to Evernote (at least until they go under) for everything.

So, that's an Import, right? But it's an import of that huge, single file you made a few weeks/months ago. Everything. There is no way to intake only a portion of a backup. You can't selectively import notes, notebooks, or tags. You also do not get back any of the structure your notes had at the time you made the backup.

Imagine if you backed up every file on your computer, but when you restored them, they all came back at the same, root level with no indication of the folder they used to live in. And you have to take them all, whether you have them on that computer or not. That's an Import in Evernote.

Import everything it is then. And deal with the consequences:
  • You cannot cancel an Import once it starts. Have thousands of notes? Get ready to wait it out.
  • Every note on and before your last backup is now a duplicate.
  • Every imported note is in a new notebook, not the notebook it came from.
  • If you're a Plus member and imported more than your 1GB of sync allowance, you immediately get this warning:

    This is not true. It will be true if you try to sync, but if you quickly delete everything before the sync starts, it isn't true. But you did get pitched the upgrade, so that's nice.
  • The modified date of imported notes is the day of your import, not the day the note was actually modified. This make sense from one perspective, but from a restoration perspective I didn't modify the note when the restoration happened, but when I last edited the note. This a) saves you when you figure it out because you can quickly delete duplicate notes made today but b) means Evernote can't tell if the note being imported is a duplicate of an existing note.

    (This is actually a more fundamental issue in that Evernote doesn't export the note GUIDs, so it's probably near impossible for them to tell notes apart.)
There's really no good way back from this point. Even if I upgrade, I can't sort notes back into their original notebooks with an import and manually sorting 3700+ notes.. yeah, not going to happen. So, I suppose I cut my losses and copy in relevant work notes and leave old notes in OneNote.

How to fix this? A more complete backup and restore process would be good:
  • Exports should include the notebook name at minimum, probably should include the stack name as well. These items should be restorable. 
  • The ability to specify a date range to restore. 
  • Duplicate note checking. GUIDs should be part of a backup.
  • The ability to cancel an in-progress import. 
  • A more accurate warning when you are about to exceed your monthly allotment. 
  • And finally, something that Evernote apparently used to do: ask if the newly imported notebook should be synced. I did not see this option on my import.
At least I've learned something. Hopefully others can learn from my mistakes.

The Google Trap

In light of yesterday's abysmal experience with Google Photos, I've been examining how much of my digital life is tied to Google. It's a sobering list:

  • Mail
  • Calendar
  • File storage (mostly taken care of)
  • Blog
  • Chrome
    • Search history
    • URL history
    • Profiles
    • Bookmarks
    • Remote Desktop
  • Identity management on dozens of sites
  • Contacts
  • Chat
  • Map location information and saved addresses
  • Video search and viewing history
  • Social media (sort of)  (deleted) (spoke too soon; damn Youtube)
That leaves music, books, notes, and music to other services. I have had a Google+ account, but rarely used it even before Google started dragging Plus out behind the shed. I prefer to use Twitter, which comes with its own set of issues; that's a different day.

It's odd to contemplate a digital life without Google; I've had a Gmail account since at least 2005, but have imported email that goes as far back as 2001. The stuff I did prior to that have been lost, frankly, and I can't imagine losing more.

It's also odd to find the tendrils that have moved outward from my Google account over the years. Apple is a good example. When I bought my first Apple device, I was prompted to get an iTunes/iCloud/iSomething account and, naturally, used my existing Gmail address. Years later, that has now proven to be a somewhat permanent choice. I can change my ID to something else, as long as it's not Apple.

My approach to analyzing how to move away from Google products was to isolate the things I use to the individual service I get it from, as much as possible. The thought with Apple was to have a @icloud email address and do my Apple business under that. There goes that idea.

So, now I have to figure out what to do. Fastmail seems to be the go-to, for-fee service for mail, but I'm the jerk that wants a custom domain. So now I'm paying for mail hosting, a domain, and the headache of having to keep that working.

I get the value of Gmail and Google services; I'm a long-time customer. The Google Photos issue has shown me, though, that all that data in one bucket is dangerous and potentially increases my risk profile. I'm not sure I can accept that anymore. Now it's a value proposition against my own time and effort. At least Google has my laziness on its side.

Goodbye Google Photos

Note: See the end of this post for an update

Posted on 10 Aug

Google recently split Photos off of the lumbering, zombied body of Google+ into a pretty slick Service. The iOS app worked great, uploading everything, storage was easy to stay under caps, the algorithms creating some interesting Stories. I was a happy user of a set-it-and-forget-it variety.

Until today.

Today, I logged into Gmail normally and saw 5 new notifications in the Google bell. Odd, I do have a Google+ account but on no day before have I had that much activity. I clicked the notification icon and see 5 new Stories for me to review from Photos. Still thought that was odd, but I did upload a bunch of old photos a couple of weeks ago, maybe the system finally got around to combing through them. My last name starts with "V" so I'm used to getting chosen late based on the alphabet (something I realize is funnier tonight than it would have been this morning).

And then it got weird. The first Story was a trip to Lake Tahoe. I have never been to Lake Tahoe, certainly never been in a proximity close enough to take pictures of the town. There are pictures of people I don't know. There are photos from someone else's vacation. And these photos are tagged as one of my Stories.

I click the next one, "A Trip to Watertown and Chelsea, MI". I get a little nervous as I just moved from Chelsea, MI. I have never been to Watertown, MN, certainly not the Mayer Primary School being pictured in the Story. And then I hit the moment when Google lost my trust. The Story transitioned from someone else's photos from Watertown to my photos taken in Chelsea, MI years ago. The Story showed a trip from Minnesota to Chelsea.
Google seems to think I travelled from Minnesota to Chelsea
Then I clicked in my photo stream. And there were more of someone else's photos. Lots of them: scans of old Polaroids, photos from a trip somewhere tropical, hotel rooms and restaurants I'd never been in.

Two stories have disappeared, but three Stories remain. All of them mix someone else's photos with mine, including our pets.
These are not my tools (although I wish they were)

This is my cat
So, I am now a paying customer of Dropbox, having exported all my photos from Google and transferred them to Dropbox. Now comes the decision of whether I leave the rest of Google's ecosystem. I am having a really, really hard time trusting my data to Google right now (and yes, I know the privacy/data ownership/blah blah blah argument you're about to make). If Google can't get something as simple as keeping my photos separate from someone else's, I feel like I need to move away.

EDIT (11 Aug)

Props to David from the Photos team for reaching out about my issue. They haven't found the source of the problem, but they are looking into it. I won't be going back to Photos, but I do want to credit the team for taking my random complaints seriously.

Art Fair Bingo

Today starts the Ann Arbor Art Fair (technically a collection of 4 art fairs that intersect at various streets and NO ONE but the individual fair staff care AT ALL about that technicality).

Also, because Art Fair is essentially a people-watching event for locals, the inevitable scorecard emerged.

I haven't seen a new one in a while, but digging through my image backlog, I found an Ann Arbor Bingo Card from 2005 made by Jacquelene Steele. Enjoy. (Click to embiggen.)

Ann Arbor Art Fair Bingo Card - 2005


It happened. We sold the house, we closed, we moved. Hard to believe it's been almost a month since we left Chelsea.

I don't miss the house at all. I'm sure someday I'll have fond memories, but it's a burden gone for the time being and I'm glad to have it behind me.

That said, selling a house is one of the worst experiences ever. Buying a car is a breeze in comparison.

I started a long post about the experience of selling; the terrible communication skills of real estate agents (every one of them, not just ours), the soul-sucking trudge of showings and open houses, the never-ending feedback we already knew. But, I don't have it in me. I don't have the energy to look back and document that period of time.

For now, I'm enjoying being a renter again. With a ticket, they came and fixed our washing machine, sink faucet, and removed a wasps' nest. That'll hold me for a while.

Twitter has pushed me too far

Inspired by Matt Haughey's stand against Twitter , I re-logged into Mastodon on all my devices and shelved my Twitter access. I haven&#...